City council recognizes heroes of Windermere fire

Stories of bravery and everyday decency emerged from tragedy

Posted 5/24/19

Some pulled victims from rooms roiling with smoke. Some gave shelter to traumatized evacuees. Some found homes for scores of seniors left suddenly homeless. When tragedy struck, the heroes of the …

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City council recognizes heroes of Windermere fire

Stories of bravery and everyday decency emerged from tragedy

Posted

Some pulled victims from rooms roiling with smoke. Some gave shelter to traumatized evacuees. Some found homes for scores of seniors left suddenly homeless. When tragedy struck, the heroes of the Windermere fire answered the call.

Littleton City Council recognized the valor of dozens of first responders, volunteers and others who came to the rescue last November, when a fire at the Windermere apartments left a resident dead, many injured and more than 160 residents homeless.

“Littleton is a better place because of each of you,” Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman told the group gathered shoulder-to-shoulder in council chambers on May 21. “On behalf of the citizens of Littleton, thank you.”

Among those on stage were Littleton Police officers, who were first on the scene after a fire broke out in the apartment of resident Michael Mitchell before dawn. As smoke billowed from the building, the officers made their way inside, pulling panicked seniors from bedrooms and bathtubs.

Also there were volunteers from Love Inc., who sprung into action the morning of the fire, providing meals and clothing to evacuees, many of whom arrived at a shelter across the street with only pajamas and bathrobes. In the weeks that followed, Love Inc. volunteers worked closely with victims who lost everything, helping them find new homes, deal with insurance agencies, and rebuild their lives.

There are so many more stories: the firefighters who put out the fire and cleared the building. The Red Cross volunteers who sheltered the evacuees for days. Volunteers from Littleton United Methodist Church who prepared meals and provided emotional support.

“This proved that it does take a community” to respond to disaster, said Linda Haley, who runs Arapahoe County’s housing program. Haley and her staff worked long hours for months to find suitable housing for the fire’s victims.

“We all could stand to be more involved in our community,” Haley said.

The dozens of heroes recognized by the city represent just a fraction of those who came to the rescue, Brinkman said, including hundreds who donated money to assistance funds.

The burned tower, at Datura Street and Shepperd Avenue, is still undergoing asbestos abatement, city officials said, and there is still much work to be done before anyone can move back in.

The fire was the second in recent years at the complex, which is owned by Stephen Tebo and Heath Orvis. A fire in spring 2016 also resulted in the mass evacuation of residents.

Anne Heathman, a resident who lost everything she owned in the November fire and then stepped up to assist others through Love Inc., said there was a silver lining to the disaster.

“It was terrible to lose so much, but God popped up every place,” Heathman said. “If I hadn’t gone through all this, I would have missed the blessings.”

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